Tributes to a UG pioneer who made Caribbean her parish
Reflections by Rickey Singh
IN LIFE, Kathleen Drayton was more than an acclaimed Caribbean intellectual, crusader for women’s right and fighter for social justice and freedom.
She was the bright Trini student from Belmont in Port-of-Spain who in her adult working life as an educator and dynamic social and cultural activist, made the English-speaking Caribbean her parish of labour.
She was one of the pioneers of the University of Guyana (along with her husband Dr Harry Drayton), long before she became an academic stalwart of the University of the West Indies (Cave Hill Campus).
Kathleen passed away on July 6 at the age of 78 at her home and will be cremated on Monday prior to a celebratory memorial service at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Bridgetown, Barbados.
The memorial service has been organised by son Richard, History Professor at Cambridge University, and daughter Allison, a lawyer in Australia, in collaboration with close family friends.
Those who had the good fortune to know Kathleen, up close, can also testify to a generosity of spirit that often contrasted with the harshness of an iron will in defence of any cause she championed.
Over the years, both critics and admirers came to respect the competence, integrity and dedication of this Trinidad-born academic, social commentator and writer, admirable mother of two (Richard and Allison) and a warm and caring friend to have.
Born Kathleen McCracken on December 2, 1930, she has long been widely recognised for her various roles in education, the arts and activism with non-government organisations.
Within recent years she became a primary driving force behind the Barbados Association of Retired Persons (BARP) of which she was President at the time of her death.
Less known is the profile of this Caribbean woman whose home often became a haven for ordinary and well known people of the region, some victims of party politics in their homeland, among them the assassinated Walter Rodney.
As recalled by son Richard, not just Guyanese, “but a constant stream of visitors from Grenada, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Suriname, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago…There were writers, artists, intellectuals of any distinction in the Caribbean who did not pass through her house at one point or another…
“It was a kind of permanent salon”, he said, “where people talked and joked and argued over food and drink which was always abundant and beautifully prepared and presented by her…”
For George Lamming, who needs no introduction in the Caribbean, she “will be remembered as one of the most formidable intellects in the history of the University of the West Indies”.
On a more personal note, the Guyanese social and political activist Andaiye, also well known beyond political and women’s organisations of the region, she was “terrified” by her first meeting with “Kathleen”.
Then 21 and Kathleen around 33, Andaiye recalled that “the first thing that struck me about her was how precisely she spoke; how much she demanded that things be just so; how unable she was to suffer fools or foolishness, even halfway, gladly…”
As Andaiye recalled, the educator Drayton, having completed a training course for women, some of whom admitted to being intimidated by her at first, invited them to her home…She was a warm and generous hostess, but some were still intimidated.
“And then she put on a calypso she particularly liked and, Trini to the bone, loosed down a carnival wine-to-the ground that Trinidadians across class and race seem to carry somewhere in all their bones. They would never see her the same way again….”She was fierce, sometimes bullying and always, always behind it loving in the most practical way…”
Drayton–with whom I had the pleasure to serve for a number of years on the panel of judges for the Pan American Health Organisation’s Caribbean Media Awards for Excellence in Journalism–had spent most of her adult working years in Jamaica, Guyana and finally Barbados, having left her native Trinidad and Tobago around 1950 as the first Cipriani Memorial Scholar to become part of the first class of Arts and Humanities students at the then University College of the West Indies.
Subsequently, in the 1980s, she became the first woman to have been invited to address an annual conference of the Barbados Workers Union, at which she told delegates and observers:
“I suppose I have the responsibility of demonstrating in this forum that women are no less capable of thinking, of reflecting and of making speeches than men. But the real reason I feel honoured is because workers—and I speak as a worker myself—and workers representatives, are the most important people in any country, and to be in their company is to be in the company of the elite…
“For without work, without labour”, said the former Head of the UWI’s Women and Development Studies, “not only would wealth not exist, but human society itself would not exist…”
In the last public statement she made, called “Lessons from My Life”, and delivered on July 3 when she was honoured by the Caribbean Institute of Gender and Development Studies (Cave Hill Campus), Kathleen Drayton had also reflected on the impact of her as a child of the “hunger marches” of the 1930s…
On a personal note, Kathleen Drayton remained a cherished family friend of our family, one that had its genesis in Guyana where I first met her and her husband Dr Harold Drayton.
The friendship strengthened during critical years in Barbados. For all six of our children she was always referred to with fondness and respect as “aunty Kathleen”.